The top Republican in the US Senate declared that compromise was “within reach” on a bipartisan Covid-19 relief package, boosting hopes that Washington may finally agree a follow-up stimulus package in the final weeks of the Trump administration.
Speaking on the chamber floor on Thursday morning, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said it was “heartening to see a few hopeful signs in the past few days” and that there was “movement in the right direction”.
He said there was “strong bipartisan support” for several policies including another “targeted” round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides relief for small businesses, and funding for vaccine distribution, as well as the extension of certain unemployment relief programmes and a clearer legal framework for university reopenings.
“Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree,” Mr McConnell said. “We can do this. We need to do this.”
Asked whether he would support a deal from Congress on Covid-19 relief, President Donald Trump on Thursday said: “I will and I think we are getting very close. I want it to happen. And I believe we are getting very close to a deal.”
Mr McConnell’s comments came two days after a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Susan Collins of Maine unveiled a $908bn Covid-19 relief bill that would attempt to bridge the difference between an earlier $2tn stimulus package passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives and the $500bn counterproposal put forward by Senate Republicans.
The Senate majority leader has circulated his own proposal similar to a Republican plan rolled out earlier this year.
Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that the administration would back Mr McConnell’s plan. “The president will sign the McConnell proposal he put forward yesterday, and we look forward to making progress on that,” he said.
Democratic congressional leaders, meanwhile, have suggested that they would be willing to use the bipartisan Senate proposal as the basis for a fresh round of talks, which stalled before the presidential election last month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said the bipartisan package should in “the spirit of compromise” be used “as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations”.
On the Senate floor on Thursday, Mr Schumer again expressed optimism about a potential deal.
“We believe that with good faith negotiations, we could very well come to an agreement. We are already much closer to an agreement, because of the bipartisan talks . . . and we can build off their momentum,” the top Democrat in the Senate said.
The bipartisan proposal would allocate an additional $288bn for small business aid, an additional $180bn for unemployment benefits and $160bn for state and local governments, among other measures.
Mr McConnell’s proposal would not provide any funding for state and local governments — a proposal that many Republicans have characterised as a bailout for poorly-run Democratic cities and states — nor would it continue the supplemental unemployment benefits.